(NEW YORK, NY, 6/22/2021) — The Islamic Leadership Council of New York (ILCNY) today demanded that school officials publicly apologize and take corrective action following an Islamophobic, anti-Palestinian and anti-immigrant incident at The Wheatley School graduation in which a Muslim graduate speaker was reportedly booed and told “go back to Pakistan” by a parent.
ILCNY is also calling on The Wheatley School to publicly apologize to the student and her family for providing false information to parents and the public, and for contributing to the bullying and harassment of the student.
On June 20, a graduating 17-year-old Muslim student who wears hijab (religious head covering) and is of Pakistani descent, gave a graduation speech that was approved by the school principal.
Video of Graduation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AAXTehQVzlg
In the speech, the student asked her classmates to seek out knowledge about international issues plaguing the world, including the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and Uighur Muslims and global warming.
The student said:
“Educate yourself about international dilemmas, including the ethnic cleansings of Palestinians and Uighur Muslims. Families are continuously torn apart and real human lives are being lost but ignored. Educate yourself on the widespread issues that plague our planet and threaten our very existence in the long run: consider global warming with the gravity that it needs to be looked at with. And never stop speaking about these issues until they are resolved.”
During her speech, the student was booed by parents and the parents chanted, “we support Israel.” Afterwards, parents harassed and bullied the student and her family. At one point, one parent is caught on video asking the student, “what about Hamas?”
Another parent made the anti-immigrant statement, “go back to Pakistan!” The student and her family are of Pakistani descent. The student referenced her ethnicity during her speech. Another male adult parent became so aggressive with his yelling and gestures that security and a police detective had to escort him away from the family.
The principal blamed the uproar on the student’s reference to Palestinians. At the graduation ceremony, the principal apologized to the student and stated that “the blame is all mine” because he allegedly failed to review the speech before he approved it.
Principal’s Receipt of Speech Prior to Graduation:
Later that day, however, The Wheatley School sent two emails to parents. In both emails, the school falsely stated that the student’s speech was not approved, and that the student diverted from her approved speech.
In Principal Dr. Feeney’s email, he falsely stated:
“Unfortunately, one of the student speakers diverted from the remarks that had been originally approved by the Graduation Speech Committee who made the selections, presenting personal views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“I want to be clear that the injection of such remarks was absolutely inappropriate to the graduation ceremony, as would be any political statements during a celebration solely intended to acknowledge our seniors and their many achievements and accomplishments as members of our Wheatley School community. The comments were not part of the approved speech.
I apologize that such a wonderful ceremony became marred for many people in attendance due to those remarks.”
The principal and school district apologized to the Wheatley Community for the student’s remark and failed to acknowledge the Islamophobia, anti-Palestinian, and anti-immigrant harassment and bullying that the student and her family suffered. The principal and school district’s emails fanned the flames of anti-Muslim hysteria and contributed to the ongoing hate that is permeating.
Dr. Feeney was asked to correct the record and issue a condemnation. Dr. Feeney refused to commit to any public comments.
As a result of the harassment and bullying, the student suffered from severe anxiety and had to make a visit to a local hospital for medical assistance. The student’s father is also seeking medical treatment for anxiety and stress that has developed because of the harassment and fear for his family’s safety.
In a statement, ILCNY Outreach Manager Mosaab Sadeia said:
“The incident at The Wheatley School indicates East Williston School District and Principal Dr. Feeney’s complete failure in taking Islamophobia seriously. When given the opportunity to fulfill their duty and protect a Muslim student, they utterly failed. Huda and her family faced this abuse on a day that should have been filled with celebration and joy, and it is absolutely sickening that instead the blame was shifted on her and her family. Incidents like these reveal to us what many Muslim students already know and experience every day; Islamophobia in schools is a serious issue that fails to be addressed by school administrators. We are calling on elected officials and school administrators to stop endangering Muslim students in their safe environments and take steps to address Islamophobia in their communities. No child should go to school in fear.”
We are calling on community members and allies to declare their support for Huda on social media by using the hashtag #WeStandWithHuda.
ILCNY is an umbrella of over 90 mosques and organizations, Majlis Ash-Shura of New York serves as the official representative of its members with the media, organizations, advocacy groups, political candidates, and government institutions. Its mission is to provide a united platform for the New York Muslim community through advocacy, network building, and representing important issues for marginalized communities.
CONTACT: Mosaab Sadeia, ILCNY Outreach Manager, 347-274-4704, firstname.lastname@example.org